It was 1995 and Chattahoochee Valley Community College baseball was playing a game against one of its rivals.
The lineups were even except for a scrawny 160-pound sophomore named Tim Hudson. For nine innings, both at the plate and on the mound, Hudson was single-handedly beating the opponent, said former teammate and current CVCC coach Adam Thomas.
“He’s doing everything against them, and at one point I can hear their coach yelling: ‘We are letting a Fungo bat beat us today!’ ” Thomas said with a laugh. “We called him ‘Fungo’ for the rest of the season.”
Fast forward 18 years, and Fungo is on the verge of a personal milestone in Major League Baseball.
One hundred and ninety-nine times since he made it to the big leagues in 1999, Hudson has beaten the other team. A win tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates would make it 200 and put him in elite company: Only 113 pitchers have achieved the milestone, only two of whom are still active.
Hudson, of course, is trying to downplay the significance.
“I’m not a guy that really likes to boast about accomplishments,” he said on Wednesday. “Honestly, I like flying under the radar. But it’s definitely something to be proud of.”
Hudson flew under the radar for most of his young career, and that, he says, may be part of the reason he’s been able to have such success.
The growth of tiny Tim
Hudson didn’t used to be as big as he is today. That’s saying something considering he’s listed at a generous 6-foot-1, 175 pounds on the Braves roster.
When he graduated from Glenwood School in 1993, owner of an AISA state championship ring, he had relatively few college options despite his individual success.
“He was 6-nothing, 100-nothing when he started college,” Thomas said. “But he was always a good athlete. And this sounds cliché, but he had that innate, intangible drive. Almost an underdog thing.”
As a freshman at CVCC, Hudson had immediate success, earning first-team All-America honors after hitting .385 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs. On the mound, he was 10-2 with 76 strikeouts and a 2.76 earned run average. His sophomore season was even better.
“We knew,” Thomas said. “We knew he was on a different level than everybody else, particularly as a pitcher.”
Hudson joined Auburn the next season as a junior. As a senior, he broke out to go 15-2 with a 2.97 ERA and 165 strikeouts, while leading the Tigers in batting at .396, 18 home runs and a school record 95 RBIs. That year, Hudson was named the NCAA Player of the Year.
The success didn’t die when he reached the majors, first in Oakland then with Atlanta (he was traded to the Braves prior to the 2005 season.)
“I’ve always been a little bit of an underdog,” Hudson said. “Honestly, I think that’s made me who I am. It’s defined the kind of player I am on the field. If it was a different scenario growing up, who knows if I’d have had the career that I’ve had.”
Fellow Braves pitcher Kris Medlen said that, in his limited experience, that’s what it takes for the “little guys” to make it big.
“For the little guys like ourselves, you have to have a lot of (guts), and it goes a long way,” he said. “You can’t scout intangibles. Your heart, your mind and, like I said, your (guts). It goes a lot further than just stuff.
“When you figure out how to win with C-minus stuff, that’s when you get it. He’s had bad days, but he figures out a way to keep his team in ball games.”
Reflecting on a milestone
Pitchers who keep their team in ball games generally get a lot of wins — 199 of them when it comes to Hudson.
Two hundred is a number that few pitchers reach today. Hudson said that he recognizes that, and that it all comes down to his longevity.
“To have played long enough to be able go for 200 wins — that’s what is really special,” he said. “When I started my career, I never realized I’d be at this point. To be fortunate enough to play this long is a blessing.”
He said that he’s been relatively healthy, despite missing an entire season in 2009 following Tommy John surgery. The fact that he came back from that so late in his career is even more impressive, Medlen said.
“He came back as strong as ever,” he said. “He came back with great stuff, and he’s the ace of the staff wherever he goes.”
And while 200 wins will undoubtedly mean a lot to him, it means a lot to players like the ones Thomas currently coaches at CVCC.
“Timmy is the ultimate success story for the little guy,” Thomas said, “figuratively and literally. It’s a testament to the success you can have if you put in that hard work and competitive drive.”
Work left to do
Whenever a player reaches a new milestone, like Hudson’s 200 wins, it’s another opportunity for people to start discussing the end of their career.
For now, though, he’s as focused on another number as he is on 200: Zero. The number of World Series championships he has been a part of. That’s something he’d like to change.
“I hope it gets better from here,” he said. “I won’t really be satisfied until I’m able to get a World Series championship. That’s what everybody plays for.”
Hudson knows people wonder how much he has left, but he’s not thinking about the end yet. He is in the final year of his contract with the Braves. Unless a deal is struck during the season, Hudson will become a free agent at the end of this season.
“I feel good,” he said. “I like where I am physically. I feel as healthy as I have in a long time. I don’t feel like I’ve taken many steps backward.
“You know what, these hitters will tell me when I need to retire. Right now, I feel like I’m doing all right.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
TIM HUDSON BIO
High school: Glenwood School
Rookie year: 1999 (Oakland Athletics)
Career stats: 199-104, 3.41 ERA, 1,814 strikeouts